Oh, the millennials (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s), the “me” generation, those who think that the planet earth revolves around them, those who demand an on-the-spot award for brushing their hair are coming of age. Do they have what it takes to solve today’s challenges? There are many managers who do not think so.
Here is a wonderful saying by 19th century English novelist Mary Ann Evans (known by her pen name George Eliot) that describes wonderfully these millennials: “When we are young we think our troubles a mighty business – that the world is spread out expressly as a stage for the particular drama of our lives and that we have a right to rant and foam at the mouth if we are crossed. I have done enough of that in my time. But we begin at last to understand that these things are important only to one’s own consciousness, which is but a globule of dew on a rose-leaf that at midday there will be no trace of.” Indeed, these 19th century millennials do not look much different than our 21st century types.
As the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) retire from federal service in record numbers lately, millennials are and will remain overrepresented in the federal workforce. And with them in charge, it is nearly impossible to tackle the big challenges of the day.
Take for example the Hispanic underrepresentation. While this has been a challenge since 1970, the anemic progress made since that time has been the result of the self-sacrifice of baby boomers and their doing the right thing for the benefit of all Hispanics. Boomers know that when Hispanics are better represented in all pay grades in the Federal Government, they will be able to mentor more Hispanic applicants to rise through the ranks. Moreover, boomers realize that a greater Hispanic representation will allow the Federal Government to better address the challenges faced by Hispanic communities throughout the Nation. They are very much aware that to achieve these goals, they have to embrace the wisdom of the famous saying that “in unity, there is strength.” In other words, to succeed, they have to support each other, they have to submit affidavits in civil rights complaints to expose discriminatory practices when they have personal knowledge of them, and they have to make financial contributions to the legal-defense funds to litigate discrimination complaints in the administrative process and in federal courts. This is how progress is attained.
But this is not the credo that millennials live by. They believe that the “I” comes before the “we.” They judge their fellow employees by how useful they can be to propel them to the next promotion. They treat work assignments as mere tools to enhance their résumés and/or get awards. They are ignorant of the key tenet by management and leadership expert John Maxwell that “one is too small a number to achieve greatness.” With their narcissistic mindset, they will not succeed in getting the federal bureaucracy to extend a helping hand to Hispanic applicants. With them in charge, Hispanics will remain underrepresented for the next fifty years.
And, let me pause for a moment to clarify that when I argue in favor of a better Hispanic representation in the federal workforce, I am not arguing for the hiring of unqualified Hispanics. To do so would do more harm than good – both for the federal workforce and for the Hispanic agenda. This is nothing more that the wrong type of affirmative action.
What I am talking about is the right type of affirmative action – the one that takes into consideration the qualifications of applicants. I worked for the Federal Government for thirty-nine and a half years, and I saw with my own eyes how Hispanic applicants with top job experience and educational credentials got passed over because they were Hispanics, because they spoke with an accent, because of a false perception that they could not be trusted or that they could not become good team players.
These are all false stereotypes, but they are lethal to Hispanics who don’t get selected or promoted for these vacancies. I saw selecting officials from other minority groups not select Hispanic applicants because they preferred to help members of their own minority groups. This is simply unbelievable that members of other minority groups who have seen and suffered discrimination up-close would choose to discriminate against Hispanics. They obviously had not learned that you cannot fight racism with more racism. But this happens too often for comfort. And, as long as millennials keep thinking only about themselves, these horrific practices will persist. And the paradigm of anemic gains for Hispanics will soon be reversed to significant losses as a result of shrinking budgets. And no one will care and no one will notice because they think that Hispanics are not united enough to challenge these inequities. When they think of Hispanics, they think of toothless tigers.
And the majority group in the federal workforce, the white males, usually – not always — want to hire applicants who look like them, who went to the same schools, who travelled to the same places, and who practice the same past-times that they do – like playing golf. (Like in everything else, there are exceptional white males who do the right thing by hiring qualified Hispanics). And when outside pressures force them to change their behavior, they only hire a few token Hispanics to silence their detractors. Rest assured that these Hispanics will never be the Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz (both, U.S. Senators) of the world! And they expect Hispanics to be grateful for the crumbs that they offer them. And millennials, with their “me “mentality, are powerless to fight against these unfair practices.
And, I wonder whether the same maladies that afflict millennials are not the same ones that afflict Cubans from Communist Cuba. What Fidel and Raul Castro, the Communist dictators who have ruled Cuba with an iron fist over the last sixty years, fear the most is the group-think. They reluctantly tolerate human-rights dissidents as long as they are small in number, but they are well aware that group-think by the Cuban population would lead to mass revolt and the toppling of the old order.
And, yet, the majority of the Cuban population – especially the Cuban millennials – only think of solving their own problems, instead of acting in unison to bring about a Cuban spring that would abrogate all the suffering that they’ve endured under the Castro brothers.
When they meet another Cuban at work or in social functions, what goes through their minds is what they can get out of them, how useful they can be to them. The mere thought of helping other Cubans is foreign to them. The example of self-sacrifice set by Cuban Founding Father José Martí of fighting against oppression to bring about a democratic government “con todos y para el bien de todos” (an all-inclusive type) does not register in the minds and hearts of these Cubans.
In fact, they rather make the harrowing journey on homemade rafts across the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits than joining hands with like-minded Cubans to topple the totalitarian regime. As long as they keep looking up to Miami and not to La Habana to secure freedom and a better tomorrow, Cuba will never be free.
In order for millennials and Cubans to succeed in achieving the lofty goals that would culminate in long-lasting change for the good of their communities, to be better represented in the federal workforce, to live in a Cuba Libre, they will have to suppress parts of themselves to fight for a larger cause. They’ll have to evolve from a culture of self-indulgent decadence to one of noble restraint. They’ll have to put “character” and “authenticity” on a pedestal. They’ll have to put the “we” before the “I.”